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December 13th, 2013
09:30 AM ET

Call Jesus (or Santa) white? Expect a big fight

Opinion by Edward J. Blum, special to CNN

(CNN) - Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly sparked outrage this week by insisting that Jesus and Santa Claus are both white, saying it's "ridiculous" to argue that depicting Christ and St. Nick as Caucasian is "racist."

"And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white," Kelly said, "but this person is arguing that we should also have a black Santa."

Kelly was responding to an article in Slate that said St. Nick needs a makeover from fat, old white guy to something less "melanin-deficient."

The Fox News host would have none of it.

"Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change," Kelly said. "Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure; that's a verifiable fact. As is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy, in the story, and change Santa from white to black?"

Arguing about St. Nick, who was originally Greek before Currier & Ives got their hands on him, is one thing. But as for Jesus, people have been arguing about his skin color since the earliest days of American history. You might even call it an American tradition.

What's new about this latest brouhaha is how swiftly Kelly’s remarks were attacked. Thousands of people have rebuked her through blogs, articles, Twitter posts and Facebook updates.

Comedian Jon Stewart accused Kelly of "going full Christmas nog."

“And who are you actually talking to?" Stewart said on "The Daily Show." "Children who are sophisticated enough to be watching a news channel at 10 o’clock at night, yet innocent enough to still believe Santa Claus is real — yet racist enough to be freaked out if he isn’t white?”

It seems that now, if you want to call Christ — or even Santa — white, you should expect a fierce fight.

The immediate and widespread rebuttal showcases how much America has changed over the past few decades. The nation not only has a black president, but also has refused to endorse the Christian savior as white.

Since the earliest days of America, Jesus was thought of as a white man.

When white Protestant missionaries brought Bibles and whitened images of Jesus to Native Americans, at least a few mocked what they saw.

Taking the imagery seriously, the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh asked future President William Henry Harrison, “How can we have confidence in the white people? When Jesus Christ came upon the earth you kill’d and nail’d him on a cross.”

It was not until around 1900 that a group of white Americans explicitly claimed Jesus was white.

Concerned that large numbers of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, especially Jewish immigrants, were “polluting” the nation, anti-immigrant spokesmen like attorney Madison Grant asserted the whiteness of Jesus to justify calls for exclusionary legislation.

READ MORE: From science and computers, a new face of Jesus

Making Jesus white was a means to distance him from Judaism.

“In depicting the crucifixion no artist hesitates to make the two thieves brunet in contrast to the blond Savior,” Grant wrote in his xenophobic best-seller "The Passing of the Great Race."

“This is something more than a convention,” Grant continued, and suggested that Jesus had “Nordic, possibly Greek, physical and moral attributes.”

Even Martin Luther King Jr. claimed that Jesus was white, after being asked why God created Jesus as a white man.

King responded that the color of Christ’s skin didn’t matter. Jesus would have been just as important “if His skin had been black.” He “is no less significant because His skin was white.”

READ MORE: Turkish town cashes in on Saint Nick legacy

Challenges to Christ’s whiteness have a long history, too.

Famed evangelist Billy Graham preached in the 1950s, and then wrote emphatically in his autobiography "Just As I Am," that, “Jesus was not a white man.”

But Graham was far from the first American to contradict the whiteness of Jesus. That honor goes to Methodist and Pequot Indian William Apess.

In 1833, he wrote to white Christians, “You know as well as I that you are not indebted to a principle beneath a white skin for your religious services but to a colored one.”

Almost 100 years later, the Jamaican born, “back-to-Africa” spokesman Marcus Garvey told his followers, “Never admit that Jesus Christ was a white man, otherwise he could not be the Son of God and God to redeem all mankind. Jesus Christ had the blood of all races in his veins.”

In our age, the color of Christ has become both politically dangerous and the butt of jokes.

In 2008, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s words “God damn America” and “Jesus was a poor black boy” almost derailed then-Sen. Barack Obama from winning the Democratic primary.

Now, Kelly bears the brunt of attacks and, in no surprise, was pilloried by comedians like Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Few Americans went on public record against King when he asserted Jesus had white skin in the 1950s. Today, thousands upon thousands from virtually every race and tribe of Americans have taken Kelly’s words seriously and seriously disdained them.

All the chatter about Jesus being white (or not) shows how much America has changed. There used to be “whites’ only” restaurants and schoolrooms. Now, even Jesus cannot be called white without repercussions.

What the debate hides, however, is what Jesus of the Bible actually did and how he related to people.

The gospels are full of discussions about Jesus and bodies. He healed the blind and those who suffered from disease. He touched and was touched by the sick. His body was pierced by thorns, a spear and nails. And he died.

READ MORE: What all those Jesus jokes tell us

The phenotype of Jesus was never an issue in the Bible. Neither Matthew, nor Mark, nor Luke, nor John mentioned Christ’s skin tone or hair color. None called him white or black or red or brown.

Obsessions about race are obsessions of our age, not the biblical one. When asked what mattered most, Jesus did not say his skin tone or body shape. He instructed his followers to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

Maybe this Christmas season, we can reflect not so much on whether or not Jesus was white and instead consider what it meant for him to be called the “light” of the world.

Edward J. Blum is the co-author of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. He can be followed on Twitter @edwardjblum. The views expressed in this column belong to Blum alone.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Art • Belief • Bible • Billy Graham • Black issues • Christianity • Discrimination • Faith • God • Jesus • News media • Opinion • Persecution • Prejudice • Race • United States

soundoff (7,485 Responses)
  1. Will

    She work at FOX NEWS, what do you expect.....

    December 13, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • Walter

      I agree, Kelly should recognize that Santa can be black and Martin Luther King may be white.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  2. American Bob

    Take it from this conservative; Megyn Kelly is an idiot. We can't stand her. CNN, please take her off of our hands.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      We'll give you Nancy Grace for her if you throw in a larger size mute button for my remote.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • leo

      nice comment from a moron 🙂

      December 13, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  3. Cattlelight

    I am Christ, I am "black" and so is God. My name is Michael

    December 13, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  4. Will M

    We know Jesus is white, but why did she need to add the whole Santa thing and even mention that Jesus is white? Santa is a childhood icon, and can be whatever you want him to look like. It's offensive to have people in our society say things like this, especially on camera.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • .

      What's offensive is your insistence that Jesus be made over in the WASP Aryan image. He wasn't.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Matt

      Jesus and Santa are both the same. They are both icons based on people that might have existed a long time ago.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • David

      We know that Jesus is "NOT" white.

      This whole white thing is getting out of hand. You define white however you want it to be, lets not even get to Jesus and Santa.

      What makes someone white? Because those dark brown people in the Middle East are considered white now... Egyptians??? What about Sudan?

      Oh wait, on the border between Sudan and Egypt.... is there like some magical spell that somehow separates them into black and white? How does the gradient (mixed, brown, etc) not get included in this?

      Jews of today in America are by and large white. Yes, they look like Germans and what not. Yes, we know, they were in Germany for 1000 years.

      There was no German heritage 2000 years ago in Israael, and the Jews did not mix with the Romans.

      So it's silly to try to push this notion that white Romans, white Germanic people are of the same group as the Jews who are what... a hundred miles from black Egypt??

      December 14, 2013 at 7:46 am |
  5. Nogods

    Jesus – dead. Still dead. Will always be dead. Move on.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • Matt

      Is Santa dead too?

      December 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • Debra

      I know my Savior Jesus Christ Lives, and I don't care what color He is.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  6. GI Joe

    And all of a sudden a middle eastern couple travelled hundreds of miles to pay their taxes and gave birth to a white child.

    Amazing. Just amazing.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  7. Erik

    Well, Santa has always had a job... doesn't this by definition make him white?

    December 13, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • Hard Drinkin' Lincoln

      Hate to tell you this master race, but where I stand there's no shortage whatsoever of stupid, lazy, ignorant, food-stamp grubbing white folks, unsuitable for employment and a complete and total waste of skin.

      Have a merry Christmas.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
      • Mark

        I don't know if this is supposed to be your version of trying to fight racism, but its just as offensive/immature as the comment you replied to.

        December 13, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
        • Hard Drinkin' Lincoln

          No, Mark – I'm just sick of white trash blaming everyone else for their problems. If this offends your delicate sensibilities, tough sh!t.

          December 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          Mark, if the first comment was "not good" why didn't you take that poster to task independently?

          December 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  8. Mark

    Saint Nick was white. Jesus on the other hand was middle eastern, so dark; but still Caucasian. And honestly who the hell cares?

    December 13, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • Franky

      Incorrect, by no definition of "Caucasian" would a Sephardic Jew be classified as "Caucasian"

      I guess Hitler made a mistake?

      I can't even believe this one is even being argued.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
      • Mark

        Someone of the Jewish faith, dones't have to belong to any particular ethnic group.

        December 13, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
      • Hard Drinkin' Lincoln

        Caucasian race (also Caucasoid)is the general physical type of some or all of the populations of Europe, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Western, Central and South Asia. The term was used in biological anthropology for many people from these regions, without regard necessarily to skin tone.

        You might be wrong. Blame Wikipedia.

        December 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • Snow

      even if the middle easterns are considered "Caucasian" (which they are not, fyi), jesus would not be a caucasian unless god was caucasian as well. Are you saying god is caucasian too?

      December 13, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  9. Jesse

    Megan's Santa is white, white as the KKK.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  10. Mopery

    Megyn Kelly needs her stocking stuffed.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  11. Jason

    Jesus and Santa are both white. It is in the Bible. To say otherwise is heresy. Just ask Westboro Baptist. They'll tell you.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
  12. cjhickles

    They are both fictional characters. They aren't any race at all.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
    • Roger Mike

      wrong

      harry potter is white

      the the black guy in huckleberry finnn is black

      December 13, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  13. The Truth

    Why is it so hard for people to just face the fact that Jesus was a man of color with melanin in his skin, as his lineage was comprised from the 12 Tribes of Israel also known as Hebrews whose image was closer to that of African Peoples from Ethiopia and Egypt (Before the Persian, Greek, and Roman Invaders).
    People, I sincerely hope you wake up one day and realize that Jesus was nothing like the images you have been deceived into worshipping. Heck, even the cuacasian population of Jews who currently occupy Israel are not true Hebrew Israelites but instead Europeans whose ancestors from Germany and Russian converted to Judaism.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • Paul II

      Sorry to bust your bubble, but modern genetic testing has show a common heritage among European and Middle Eastern Jews.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
      • lulz

        It also shows a common heritage between mosquitos and elephants. It's a just a matter of when the divide happened...

        December 13, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
  14. Franky

    What is wihte?

    What is caucasian?

    December 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  15. Harper

    Hilarious this is. And certainly it is not news. Santa has always been Caucasian in appearance. Jesus as we'll, although an olive or tanned complexion would be more likely in the Mediterranean. All this is is fodder for uprights to bicker over, as well as to incite the usual intolerance from atheist types who can't help but point out both figures are mythological to begin with, in their eyes anyway. A big waste of news. Carry on.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • Roger Mike

      a caucasian with a tan is still a white person

      December 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
      • Satan Claws

        My tan eventually fades away. Your stupidity, however, is forever.

        December 13, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • Franky

      Is white a skin color or ethnicity?

      Jesus is Jewish of the Sephardic variant ... Good old St. Nick being Germanic in origin (ficticious) as he may be would qualify as "white" from the common mis-understanding of "white" , which as we can see from this conversation itself isn't clearly defined.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • venividivici

      Harper is in shock but putting on a brave face.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  16. Oliver

    The question should be why was Jesus Christ second to Santa?

    December 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
  17. lol??

    Whaddya mean Jesus can't jump?? He invented it ...

    December 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
  18. perry

    Religion is just commercialism – you have to have a figurehead that your target audience is comfortable around.

    December 13, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • Anon

      Bingo.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
  19. mikeinmiami

    It's all fiction anyway so imagine them any color you please

    December 13, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • Roger Mike

      even a fictional charecter can have color to their skin.

      james bond was white

      December 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
  20. Little round

    Just to be sure, snow is still white right?

    December 13, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • skarphace

      Unless you pi$$ on it. Then it is red. Or is that just me?

      December 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • Marcus

      Unless it's where the Huskies go.

      December 13, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.